Sunday, February 28, 2010

Al Gore Op-Ed: We Can't Wish Away Climate Change

Al Gore has written a very passionate defense of the science pertaining to climate change. Conservatives -- who never accepted the arguments in the first place -- have used recent revelations of faulty data among some scientists in the field to discount and belittle decades of research. Gore takes on these and other arguments.

Here is a clip:
I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90 million tons of global-warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere — as if it were an open sewer.

It is true that the climate panel published a flawed overestimate of the melting rate of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, and used information about the Netherlands provided to it by the government, which was later found to be partly inaccurate. In addition, e-mail messages stolen from the University of East Anglia in Britain showed that scientists besieged by an onslaught of hostile, make-work demands from climate skeptics may not have adequately followed the requirements of the British freedom of information law.

But the scientific enterprise will never be completely free of mistakes. What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged. It is also worth noting that the panel’s scientists — acting in good faith on the best information then available to them — probably underestimated the range of sea-level rise in this century, the speed with which the Arctic ice cap is disappearing and the speed with which some of the large glacial flows in Antarctica and Greenland are melting and racing to the sea.

Because these and other effects of global warming are distributed globally, they are difficult to identify and interpret in any particular location. For example, January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States. Yet from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago.

Similarly, even though climate deniers have speciously argued for several years that there has been no warming in the last decade, scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.

The heavy snowfalls this month have been used as fodder for ridicule by those who argue that global warming is a myth, yet scientists have long pointed out that warmer global temperatures have been increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, putting significantly more moisture into the atmosphere — thus causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow in particular regions, including the Northeastern United States. Just as it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, neither should we miss the climate for the snowstorm.
Read the full essay here: We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change.

My take: I emphatically agree that flaws in some scientific research collected by a few scientists cannot diminish the findings of researchers who have studied this issue for years. One can and should debate policy, but playing games over scientific data is silly. At the same time, the individuals responsible for producing poor research should be taken to task by their peers (rather than fire-breathing bloggers and media). Their mistakes have enabled this political circus.


Doug said...

The problem is the leaks from East Anglia weren't just emails, Darren, they included the computer programs used to process the data. They cannot be spun. And they absolutely prove that data was altered, accidentally or intentionally, to introduce 'warming' whether it existed or not. The data was also altered to suppress evidence that "tree ring proxies" may not work.

Certainly they should be taken to task for this sloppiness -- if by taken to task you have to mean having their tenure revoked and being forced to find other careers.

Mr. Gore's spin is incredibly disingenuous considering his profound financial interest in what he advocates. I'll believe him when he announced he's donating his Kleiner Perkins profits to charity. And his sniffy dismissal of criticism of his motives is disgusting, since he lives like King Edward VII and buys offsets from himself.

Whether or not climate change is true, with apostles like him, who needs Satan?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Doug: Thanks for your comment. My problem with the recent blowup is that it discounts research from scientists across the globe, over a number of years, because of isolated bad science. One could point to bad research in a number of fields (indeed, all of them), but this cannot eliminate good work.

The financial interests on the other side of the debate are much larger than whatever Gore makes from this. Also, there are University professors who do not make much at all on this (but their salaries), and they can do an even better job legitimating the research than Al Gore.

This whole thing sounds like: One biologist had a bad study, so the world was made in 6 days.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's isolated.

They had fifteen years to peer review the hockey stick graph: it's just NOW coming to light that it's a fraud -- due to a few hacked emails??? NONE of those "good researches" in all those other climate research units figured that out?

Sorry, I don't buy it. Scientists can wait to one-up each other. So it was either widespread collusion or willful blindness. Either way, it's not what we expect of scientists.

(What's in the thousands of emails that weren't hacked?)

We hold (held?) scientists to a higher standard. Good to be reminded they are human and flawed, just like priests and politicians.

I want to move to green technology and energy, but the skeptics were legitimate. The CRUs have undermined the cause with their arrogance and dishonesty.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

"I don't think it's isolated."

OK. So the entire field of scientific research is just a bunch of people waiting to "one-up each other." I'm surprised that we even have this Internet to hear your interesting theory -- given how shoddy scientists really are.

DCE said...

Darren, my biggest issue with global warming is not whether it is happening or not, it's whether it is occurring due to natural processes (highly likely) or human activity (highly unlikely). It is disingenuous for anyone to claim AGW is fact when there are still so many unanswered questions. The so-called ClimateGate scandal has certainly called many of the conclusions in IPCC AR4 into question as much of it is based upon the CRU data and reports. (The CRU was the primary clearinghouse for the IPCC.) That data and the reports are now suspect.

12counts, the e-mails in question were believed to have been gathered due to a British FOI request, but were never released due to resistance by the CRU to release them even though they were required to do so under UK law. The University of East Anglia has already confirmed the validity of all the files 'hacked', including the computer code used to massage temperature data. That same massaged data was used by others to generate climate models. That in turn makes models derived from those datasets suspect.

One other issue: The Mann Hockey Stick graph somehow did away with Medieval Warm Period, a time when global temperatures were warmer that what we experience now. Monte Carlo analysis of the computer code used to generate the graph showed exactly the same result, meaning the code was written to provide that result regardless of the dataset used. That's why Michael Mann is now under investigation at Penn State University for scientific fraud.

Anonymous said...

'"So the entire field of scientific research is just a bunch of people waiting to "one-up each other."'

You know plainly that's not what I said, and it is sad to see the owner of a blog that I read daily and link to on my own blogroll invent a hyperbolic strawman argument in an attempt to ignore my point.

Sad, but not surprising from someone who disingenously misstates people's (legitimate) worry about the damage done to the cause by scientists' misbehavior as "One biologist had a bad study, so the world was made in 6 days."

Instead of responding in kind, I will just again restate my point, without your hyperbole: unethical scientific behavior by the IPCC, CRU, and their enablers in the scientific community intended to stymie legitimate peer review has dramatically undermined our efforts to bring about green technology and industry. They have lost trust and have no one to blame but themselves for that.

This is the type of argument one would expect from a right-winger. I will be deleting you from my blogroll.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hyperbolic strawman? Wow.

I include a lot of blogs on my roll with which I disagree (e.g., Legal Insurrection). Some of them are quite hyperbolic. My list of news sources on includes TownHall, the Washington Times, and the National Review. Variety is the spice of life.

If my response caused you to delete me from your blog roll, then I probably never belonged there in the first place. Debate requires tolerance -- not a quick swipe at the delete button.

You did say that "it was either widespread collusion or willful blindness" -- which again is a dramatic statement on your part about the quality of science.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: 12counts, if you post your blog link, I'll put you on my blog list. I love debate!

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